We are the Corbans

SHELLEY GRECO
Last updated 05:00 28/02/2014

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Today marks the 103rd birthday of Helena Ataya, the only remaining member of the original Corban family of Henderson.

Mrs Ataya is the youngest child of Assid and Najibie Corban, the wine-making pioneers. celebrations don't get much bigger than what the well known wine-making Corban clan has planned this weekend.

More than 200 relatives from Australia, New Zealand and the United States are gathering in West Auckland to mark the 122nd anniversary of patriarch Assid Corban's emigration from Lebanon.

They'll also be celebrating the 103rd birthday of Helena Ataya - the youngest and last surviving child of Assid and his wife Najibie.

Mrs Ataya is playing down her own milestone.

"I don't feel any different,"she says.

But her many relatives aren't and a birthday dinner is planned to complement reunion activities that include a memorial service at the Corban Mausoleum in Waikumete Cemetery.

The family will also gather at Corban Estate Art Centre and participate in various games, including an over-90s running race.

Assid Abraham Corban came to New Zealand in 1892 when he was 28.

His wife, Najibie and two young sons, Khaleel and Wadier joined him six years later.

It wasn't until 1902 that the Mt Lebanon Vineyards was established on a 10-acre block in Henderson and the Corbans spent the next few years pioneering many of the wine-making techniques that are commonplace today.

They were the first to use cultured yeast, stainless steel tanks, pneumatic presses and temperature controlled fermentation and produced New Zealand's first commercial quantities of naturally sparkling wine in 1962.

Rothmans purchased 25 per cent of the company in 1972 and bought out the ownership of AA Corban and Sons in 1978.

Today the original property is known as Corban Estate Art Centre and is owned by the council.

Several family members became key community figures.

Assid Abraham and Najibie Corban's eldest son Khaleel co-founded the Lebanese Society of New Zealand in 1945 and was the president of the Auckland branch for many years.

His brother Wadier, the couple's second oldest child, took Sunday School lessons at the Henderson Methodist Church and was elected onto the Town Board, which later became the Henderson Borough Council, in 1928.

Grandson Assid Khaleel Corban was a councillor for the Henderson Borough Council and was elected mayor in 1974.

He became the first mayor of the amalgamated Waitakere City Council in 1989.

Assid and Najibie Corban are survived by 32 grandchildren, 71 great-grandchildren and 110 great-great-grandchildren.

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"The family is growing so quickly and we need to get the young ones together," one of their great-grandsons, reunion organiser Alexander McIntosh, says.

"I think it's really important to acknowledge that Assid was one of the pioneers in West Auckland.

"He was a Christian man and his values have continued down the generations."

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